Hebrew | Francais


> > Archive

Shabbat Parashat Pinchas 5782

Ask the Rabbi: Visiting Egypt

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I am considering sightseeing in Egypt. Need I be concerned with the Torah’s prohibition of returning to Egypt?


Answer: We will not address the safety and national considerations of such a trip. We discussed when it is proper to leave Eretz Yisrael for any destination in Living the Halachic Process VI, G-2. (Not every place in present-day Egypt is in halachic Egypt (see Rambam Melachim 5:7)).

There is much classical discussion of the phenomenon of big Jewish communities in Egypt and great rabbis who lived there, including the Rambam. Distinctions found there are helpful regarding our less discussed question of sightseeing. The Torah mentions three times that Bnei Yisrael should cease contact with Egypt. Only one is in a clear halachic context, the prohibition of the king having too many horses because it draws people to Egypt (Devarim 17:16). Yet the Mechilta (Beshalach I:2) refers to three warnings and three communities who violated it and were harshly punished. The gemara (Sukka 51b) also speaks of the impressive community of Alexandria, attributing its demise to this prohibition. The Rambam (ibid. 7-8) codifies the prohibition.

The one explicit limitation on the prohibition in Chazal appears in the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 10:8). It is forbidden to go to settle in Egypt, but it is permitted to go for commerce. Although the Torah (Devarim 17:16) refers to acquiring horses (i.e., commerce), the Ramban (ad loc.) explains that extensive trade for the king causes representatives to move to Egypt. The Rambam (ibid. 8) says broadly that it is forbidden only to go to be mishtakeia (in the Haggada, it means a long stay).

Why did the Rambam, Radbaz, and others live in Egypt for many years? The Radbaz (ad loc.) says that if one goes without intention to stay permanently, it is not a full violation to stay, and the Sultan would not let the Rambam go. The Radbaz justified his own long stay as done to teach Torah and noted that he eventually left. Thus, the Radbaz stretched the Yerushalmi’s leniency to the maximum, so that the Rambam was covered but the Talmudic community of Alexandria was not.

Rabbeinu Bachyei (Devarim 17:16) suggests that the prohibition was based on the fact that the Egyptians of Moshe’s times were particularly corrupt (see Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot, Lav 46), and the prohibition was not designed to continue after that period. Along similar but more halachic lines, the Semag (Lav 227) suggests that it was forbidden only as long as Egypt was inhabited by the Egyptian nation, which was exiled in later biblical times. Indeed, the nation is the apparent focus of one of the p’sukim (Shemot 14:13). The historic account of Egyptian exile is the subject of machloket, but the Rambam (Issurei Biah 12:25) accepts it. However, the gemara and the Rambam assume that the prohibition applies after that point.

The Yereim (309) suggests that the prohibition only applies to those who come from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt, and not if they come from other countries. This distinction has basis in the main pasuk, which says “not to return on this path again,” and distinguishes nicely between the Rambam and the community the gemara discussed, but its logic is unclear. The Ritva (Yoma 38a) continues this direction, saying that the prohibition applies only when Jews are able to live in a strong community in Eretz Yisrael, as opposed to when the people are anyway forced to be scattered throughout the world (see Yeshayahu 27:13).

Which leniencies apply to contemporary sightseeing? The S’mag (different nation) applies. The Yereim (leaving from Israel?) applies to some Jews. The Ritva (anyway in exile) does not apply (see Tzitz Eliezer XIV:87). While the post-Talmudic distinctions are more difficult to rely upon, the Yerushalmi’s idea, that only settling, not commercial trips, is forbidden, is a strong one. Rav Ovadia Yosef permitted Israeli reporters to go to Egypt (Yechaveh Da’at III:81). Therefore, it should be fine, unless one says that you need a good reason, equivalent to commerce, for it to be permitted.      

Top of page
Print this page
Send to friend


We daven for a complete and speedy refuah for:

Nir Rephael ben Rachel Bracha
Yisrael ben Rivka

Arye Yitzchak ben Geula Miriam

Neta bat Malka

Meira bat Esther
Yerachmiel ben Zlotta Rivka

Together with all cholei Yisrael

Hemdat Yamim is dedicated

to the memory of:

Those who fell in wars

for our homeland


Rav Shlomo Merzel z”l
Iyar 10, 5771

Reuven & Chaya Leah Aberman z"l
Tishrei 9
,5776 / Tishrei 20, 5782


Mr. Shmuel & Esther Shemesh z"l

Sivan 17 / Av 20


Mr. Moshe Wasserzug z"l

Tishrei 20 ,5781


R' Eliyahu Carmel z"l

Rav Carmel's father

Iyar 8 ,5776


Mrs. Sara Wengrowsky

bat RMoshe Zev a”h.

Tamuz 10 ,5774


Rav Asher & Susan Wasserteil z"l
Kislev 9 / Elul 5780

R' Meir ben

Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld z"l


Mrs. Sara Brachfeld z"l

Tevet 16 ,5780


R 'Yaakov ben Abraham & Aisha


Chana bat Yaish & Simcha

Sebbag, z"l


Rav Yisrael Rozen z"l
Cheshvan 13, 5778


Rav Benzion Grossman z"l
Tamuz 23, 5777


R' Abraham Klein z"l

Iyar 18 ,5779


Mrs. Gita Klein z"l

Av 4


Rav Moshe Zvi (Milton) Polin z"l
Tammuz 19, 5778


R' Yitzchak Zev Tarshansky z"l

Adar 28, 5781


Nina Moinester z"l

Nechama Osna bat Yitzhak Aharon & Doba

Av 30, 5781


Rabbi Dr. Jerry Hochbaum z"l

Adar II 17, 5782


Mrs. Julia Koschitzky z"l

Adar II 18, 5782


Mrs. Leah Meyer z"l

Nisan 27, 5782


Mina Presser

bat Harav David and Bina

Tammuz 24

and members of her family

who perished in the shoah

Al Kiddush Hashem


Hemdat Yamim
is endowed by
z"l  & Ethel Sutker
of Chicago, Illinois
in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker
& Louis and Lillian Klein z”l

site by entry.
Eretz Hemdah - Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies, Jerusalem All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy. | Terms of Use.